Film of Arsenal’s first cup final and the continuing investigation into the Arsenal accounts.

By Tony Attwood

April 1927: this is part of our continuing series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.  Details of the whole series of articles on Henry Norris at the Arsenal can be found here


Following on from our last chapter, the investigations into Arsenal that William Hall had wanted to prevent but which Sir Henry Norris had been happy to allow to go ahead, had started.  And we must note that unless we are going to assume that Sir Henry was suffering from dementia, or had become a meglamaniac he clearly thought that he would win the legal cases and be vindicated.  After all this was most certainly not Sir Henry’s first court case of this type and he knew how they went.  As we have seen he took on the Labour candidate in the court when he was standing for parliament, and had appeared for the defence in an appeal by a political colleague against a charge concerning his behaviour in a public place.

I really can’t see any grounds for believing Sir Henry had dementia, so let us consider meglamania – or a variation thereof which takes as its base point a vision that says, “they can’t do that to me,” or if you prefer “don’t you know who I am?”

Henry Norris had been involved in Arsenal for 17 years and his work had included bailing out the club and paying off the debts in 1910, coming up with three alternative salvation projects (the merger, the ground sharing and finally the move to Highbury).

After finding that moving the club was the only viable project Sir Henry was then involved in leasing the ground and building Highbury (itself involving himself in guaranteeing the overdraft and the cost of building the stand), selling shares throughout in part to raise money but also to ensure that no one had control over the club.

In short he had instigated and seen through a very complex project that would ultimately be self-funding: that moving Arsenal to one specific part of north London would result in the club becoming financially viable and would over time repay all the loans and guarantees he made to the club.

So we should now ask three questions:

  1. By taking on his detractors in court, was he risking the whole Arsenal project?
  2. In undertaking this action was he risking a loss of his investment in Arsenal?
  3. What did he personally want to do next?

Despite the complexity of the issues arising in the dispute over the bus etc, the answers to these questions turn out to be very simple.

  1. No, he was not putting the Arsenal project at risk.  The club was making money, and was incredibly well supported.  He had built a quality stadium, his prediction about the crowds was correct, and he had secured a top manager.  The project was secure.
  2. No, Sir Henry had been guaranteeing the loans, but the loans were being repaid, and there was no chance of Arsenal not being able to repay the reamining loans which arose from buying out the lease in 1925.  His guarantee would not be needed.   He owned shares in Arsenal, and these would go up in value as the club’s success and fame grew, so even there he was in profit.
  3. This is the point that I have never seen raised – what did Sir Henry want to do next?  Personally, I think that he had done all he intended; he had rescued the club and made it successful.  He and his wife had both had serious illnesses and hospital operations.  I think he was quite happy to walk away.   After all, he had already done this with previous projects.   His building company that had effectively built most of Fulham was no longer operational – he had done that, and finished.   He had got Fulham promoted and worked on the building of the new stand at Craven Cottage and then walked away.  He had served his country in the war, been rewarded by having very important roles in the army, and had been promoted to Lt Colonel – and walked away.   He had been closely linked to Fulham’s Conservative Party – and been the longest serving London mayor ever – and then completely cut his ties with the Borough.   He had been elected MP, and then decided not to stand again, and walked away.   He was, in short, used to finishing a project and walking away, and I believe in this regard, Arsenal was no different.

Thus with his fortune secure and his home in the south of France, and his wife was still recouperating after her operation breaking away from football was just another project coming to an end.  True, there was no need for him to sue the Fulham men who seemed still to hold a grudge against the man who had lifted Fulham out of the doldrums of the second division of the Southern League and started them on the journey towards the Football League, but Sir Henry was a proud man, and would always defend his honour.

But to make this argument work we have to assume that Sir Henry felt he had a chance of winning the forthcoming court case against the Fulham directors.  So how would he do that?

The clue, I think, is in the wholesale company that Sir Henry had set up during the building of Highbury – the company we have considered before which bought materials and labour at trade prices in order to keep the cost of building the stadium as low as possible.  I believe that this was still running, that this company had purchased the team coach, and that this company was wholly owned and run by Sir Henry.

Apart from saving the club a lot of money by getting everything at trade prices, it would also have meant that Sir Henry could undertake the payment of Charlie Buchan on the fee-per-goal scheme – and  this must have happened because we know the club was not paying the fee.   Of course there may be some evidence that I have missed but as far as I can see there was no hue and cry concerning Buchan’s salary at Arsenal, and yet a player of his standing must have been on the maximum salary allowable for players.  So where did the additional money come from and why was it allowable?

Wherever that money came from (and it appears to me to have been from Sir Henry personally) the League knew about it because at the summer AGM they moved to prohibit any further contracts of this sort in the future.  My guess, based on the evidence, is that Buchan worked in a PR capacity for either the Kinnaird Estate, or Sir Henry’s company.

Now the answer to that could immediately be, “that is an obvious way around the rules”, and yes it was – but that is what many top players seemed to do during the era of the maximum wage – finding an obvious way around the rules.  They trained in the morning and, in theory, supplemented their income by other work in the afternoon.

So Sir Henry can probably be accused to manipulating  the rules – but they as far as I can see, so could most other clubs at the time.  Certainly we know from the case of Dick Roose, Woolwich Arsenal’s famous goalkeeper, that as an amateur he put in, and seemingly got away with (even when investigated), huge and often ludicrous expenses claims.  And we know that players were able to have second jobs – so it seems very unlikely that the incidental evidence of players and clubs conspiring to pay additional money through “back door” means was causing Arsenal or Sir Henry any problem.

It might be worth also considering a little of the history of the wage restraint operations of the FA.  In 1909 the FA had ordered all players to leave their trade union (the AFPU) on pain of being de-registered as players.

Buchan, we know, was an active member of the AFU which replaced the AFPU after the war, and he was one of the men who called for all out strike action when the League attempted to lower the maximum wage of players by 20% in 1919. However, large numbers of players did resigne from the union and the Football League was able to impose the £9 maximum wage.

But the fact remains that although there was wholesale breaches of the rule, it was still a rule, and given Arsenal’s dramatic rise from bankruptcy to having the largest crowds in the league in just 12 seasons, and Arsenal’s association with the exposure of match fixing from 1912 to 1915,  there were a lot of people around who seemed to be very interested in finding anything that would give Arsenal and/or Sir Henry their comeuppance.

And so early in April the League asked Charles Sutcliffe and Fred Rinder of the management committee to investigate Arsenal’s accounts – while Sir Henry was in the south of France with his recouperating wife.

Meanwhile of course footballing matters continued.  On 2 April 1927 Joe Hulme made his England debut in the match against Scotland in Glasgow. England won 2-1 in front of over 111,000 fans.  On the same day Arsenal’s losing run contined with the result Arsenal 0 Huddersfield 2.  It was the last game for Billy Milne, and in this game Horace Cope was injured keeping him out of the team for the rest of the season.  Hoar was also injured but he played in the FA Cup Final although not in the three league matches before nor the four league matches after that game. 

Thus Cope was the one player from Chapman’s selected “Cup XI” who didn’t make it to the final – his place taken by Kennedy – it was his only Cup game of the season.   

But more to the point in terms of league games this was now the fourth defeat in a row during which run Arsenal had scored three and conceded 15.

Meanwhile back with the FA enquiry, Sutcliffe and Rinder found that the £170 relating to the bus and still not been paid into the club’s bank account, and of course they wanted to know why.

The brief of Sutcliffe and Rinder was, I believe, to try and stop one club (or its directors) taking legal action against another club (or its directors), because the FA and League both thought this was sully the good name of football.  They wanted all disputes to be handled by the FA, and to achieve this I think they adopted the approach of trying to show Sir Henry that he had no chance of winning.

But clearly Sutcliffe and Rinder were impressed by the arguments that Sir Henry put forward, because far from telling Sir Henry he ought to back off as he had no chance of winning, they agreed that they couldn’t prevent a court case. On 4 April Athletic News confirmed this, stating that the court case would go ahead.

Following the 2 April defeat Sir Henry spoke to the press about Hall’s resignation, citing it as being over the matters relating to George Hardy’s departure, although not mentioning the arguments between Chapman and Hardy which had brought it all about.

Also sometime around now Sutcliffe also had a meeting with JJ Edwards who was representing Sir Henry in the forthcoming court case saying, it seems, that although the League might want to investigate further it would not do so until the court case was over.  This was exactly the same procedure as occurred with the Rutherford court case – the football enquiry was stopped until the court case was over, and then subsequently resumed.  In that case although Rutherford was cleared in court, that was not enough for the footballing authorities who considered the matter again and found him guilty!

But now it seems Sutcliffe had an unexpected card to play, for he told Edwards that if Sir Henry resigned as a director of Arsenal, the League would then not investigate Arsenal’s accounts further!  It was an extraordinary promise, given that the case had not yet gone to court and the evidence had not been presented.

On 5 April Sir Henry formally wrote to Herbert Chapman, who as manager was also the official “secretary” of the limited company and enclosed £250 to be paid into the Arsenal account for the bus and presumably other matters, probably related to the wholesale business.

Of course such matters were very much out of sight of the club’s players who were just thinking about a Wembley appearance in two and a half weeks’ time.   Which is probably the best explanation one can give for a scoreline of Newcastle 6 Arsenal 1, on 6 April.  Eight of the eventual cup final team were in the lineup along with Andy Young who in this match played his final game.   He was a centre forward and half back who had joined from Aston Villa and played 68 games and scored nine goals but we have no details as to what happened to him after he left Arsenal. 

What was particularly interesting with this match was that the score at half time was only 2-0 – this was not another occasion of Arsenal getting the tactics wrong.  Rather it looks as if, with the cup final on their minds, Arsenal simply got tired of chasing a lost cause. 

On the same day (6 April) Edgar Wallace, the famous crime writer, presented medals to those players taking part in a charity match at Highbury between North London 2 South London 1.

As a result of Arsenal’s defeat to Newcastle the club was now 18th in the league, five points above the relegation positions, with eight games to play.   Even worse on 9 April Arsenal lost (once more away) 5-1 at Sunderland, and slipped one place further to 19th.  And once again the collapse of Arsenal came in the second half – the score at half time being Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0.  No one wanted to risk injury by chasing a lost cause, it seems.   Cardiff meanwhile were 15th in the league.

The only good bit of news for Arsenal in all this was that Cardiff, who had been on a fine run up to their cup semi-final (being undefeated in seven) were also suffering pre-final anxiety, as they had had two defeats and a draw.

Interestingly, and unusually, the Arsenal players stayed in the north east between the matches against Newcastle and then Sunderland.  During that time the only good bit of news was that after a rockly couple of defeats the Reserves, still top of the legaue, beat Swansea Town reserves 3-2 to stay in that position.   Following that reserve match at Highbury there was the English Railways Cup Final between Gateshead Loco (L.N.E.R) and Tonbridge (S.R).  I regret I don’t know the result.

On the same day as Arsenal were losing the Sunderland, while the reserves were winning and the Railways cup final was being played, an article by Jack Humble, Woolwich Arsenal’s first chairman and a member of the club committee from the earliest days of the league cup,  appeared in The Evening Standard.  The article was called called “A tale of 15 sixpences” an is an important source in the history of the club.  Whether the timing was pure chance or an attempt to remove the focus from other events one can’t say.

Now all these events might have made Arsenal seem a very busy club, but that was nothing compared to what was about to happen.  Because in the next 15 days Arsenal had no less than six games – including the cup final.  And here we spot the first sign of Tom Whittaker being given extra responsibilities – in particular getting Hulme fit to play in the final – as he had in each round of the cup thus far.

This mad rush of games commenced with Arsenal 2 Aston Villa 1 on Good Friday (April 15).  Brain got both goals.  The following day, Arsenal beat West Brom 4-1 once more at Highbury.  Brain got another, Buchan got two and Parker a penalty.  Thus after six consecutive defeats Arsenal had won two games in two days.  Meanwhile Cardiff had lost 5-0 away to Liverpool and beaten Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 at home.

Easter Saturday saw Arsenal’s reversal of recent form continue with a 4-1 win over West Bromwich.  It was quite a result given that four of the team were from outside of the selected FA Cup Final XI, although it should be remembered that WBA were actually bottom of the league at the time, seven points from safety and with just two games in hand.  But given Arsenal’s recent run of form, it was a case of any port in a storm…

Continuing the mad rush of matches ahead of the cup final Arsenal now had their third game in four days away to Aston Villa, whom they had beaten at home on Good Friday.  The result was 3-2 with Bob John, playing at outside left (!!!) getting two and Barley playing in John’s position at left half getting the third.  For this game on 18 April Herbie Roberts got his first league game.  He became the first brilliant exponent of the “stopper” system, and a regular all the way through the 1930s era. He broke his leg in the 1937/8 season and retired after 335 games scoring five goals.

The results meant that in the lead up to the cup final, Arsenal and Cardiff were on the same number of points (37) but with Cardiff having a better goal average and thus being two places higher.  It is something not often remembered today, when the result of the final itself is described as a “shock” that Cardiff were higher up the league than Arsenal.  True Arsenal had been runners up in the League last season, but then so had Cardiff in 1923/4 (and as noted before, would have won  the league had the modern system of goal difference been used rather than goal average).  Indeed Cardiff had been runners up in the FA Cup just two seasons before.   In terms of that brief period, they achieved more than Arsenal.

In the week running up to the Cup Final, Chapman spoke to the press primarily about having so many injuries that he could not say who would be able to play in the game.  Indeed he had a point as only five of the players who played in the game on 18 April, played in the final on 23 April.

That does indeed sound like there were loads of injuries, but of  the team that did play in the final, eight ended up playing in all seven FA Cup matches that season, two played in six of the games, and one in five.

The only odd man out was Kennedy at left back.  He had not played in any of the cup games before the final, but came into the side on April 15 and played at left back in the final and the remaining seven league matches.  After this run he only played a couple more games for Arsenal – Chapman would clearly have preferred to have Cope at left back.  But otherwise however it was not really a team beset by injuries.

In its preview the Times suggested that here were two sides known for their good defences, and hence there would be a low scoring game.  Certainly Cardiff were very poor in attack – only Man U had scored fewer than their 58 goals thus far.  But it was Arsenal who had a poor defence, conceding 82 goals thus far.  Only six teams had a worse defensive record.

This was also the first FA Cup final to be broadcast live on radio – the commentary of course was undertaken by George Allison.  The crowd is recorded as being 91,206.

Sir Henry Norris led the Arsenal team onto the pitch and he introduced Charlie Buchan to his majesty and then Buchan did the introductions of everyone else in the team to the king.

And so the line up for the first cup final appearance of the team which in the cup final 90 years later became the club with the most wins of the FA Cup across history: 13.


Parker, Butler, Kennedy,

Baker, John,

Hulme, Buchan, Brain, Blyth and Hoar.

All the reports suggest the game was a poor one.  Cardiff marked and indeed fouled Buchan out of  the match to stop the feeding through of number 10 type passes to Brain.

You’ll probably have heard about the goal – with 20 minutes to go the ball squired out of the keeper’s grasp and dribbled into the net after which Cardiff retreated into an 11 behind the ball game.  At the end of the match Cardiff fans invaded the pitch and removed the net.

But Arsenal had four more games to go in the league starting with Blackburn away on the following Thursday, 28 April.  John “Jack” Lee played his 7th and last game for Arsenal and the result was Blackburn 1 Arsenal 2.  He stayed with the club one more year, but got no more first team experience, leaving this as Jack’s only experience of winning a match with the club.

Two days later on 30 April  Arsenal continued their winning run at home with the result  Arsenal 3 Birmingham City 0, a game that was watched by the New Zealand cricket tour party.  However it seems Arsenal fans were not overwhelmed with the notion of congratulating their team on getting to the final, on 22,619, the lowest crowd of  the season, came to the game.   Brian Tricker and Bob John scored.  Arsenal were 12th with two games to go – a much more respectable position than had seemed likely just a few weeks before.

Here are the results for the month

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
02/04/1927 Huddersfield Town H L 0-2 24,409
06/04/1927 Newcastle United A L 1-6 33,635
09/04/1927 Sunderland A L 1-5 23,163
15/04/1927 Aston Villa H W 2-1 38,096
16/04/1927 West Bromwich Albion H W 4-1 24,506
18/04/1927 Aston Villa A W 3-2 22,542
23/04/1927 Cardiff City (FAC F) N L 0-1 91,206
28/04/1927 Blackburn Rovers A W 2-1 13,833
30/04/1927 Birmingham H W 3-0 22,619

The series continues…


Details of the whole series of articles on Henry Norris at the Arsenal can be found here including an index to a selection of articles covering the election of Arsenal in 1919 – which is a topic that is still seemingly considered contentious in some quarters, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

An index to our various series published prior to this one, and to the anniversary files can be found on the home page.

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